Here come the girls

Paul Zanon
19/08/2015 11:17am

Underneath the photo of a ring card girl, in the May/June edition of The Ring Magazine 1965, lies the caption of, ‘If something like this caught on around the country, gate receipts automatically would fatten.’ The photo referred to an evening of boxing at the Hacienda Hotel in Las Vegas and, not only did it catch on around the country, it went on to become part of boxing culture worldwide for the next half a century.

In the 1930s, a man dressed in a suit holding the round cards would often walk around the ring with a trail of cigar smoke behind him. A boxing hall was almost a taboo area for women to step into back then, never mind stepping into the boxing ring. However, by the 1960s, Las Vegas was starting to become a hub for boxing, as it provided excitement and entertainment. The merits of the ring girl were about to add value to that whole package. There was no official ‘birth of the ring girl’. I’m using the example from 1965 as a launching platform for discussion, as it encapsulates a comment from an unknowing visionary who correctly predicted the future.

Fundamentally, the role of the ring girl has not changed a great deal since 1965, but the lives behind the ladies and culture which surrounds them certainly has. Boxing Monthly caught up with three of possibly Britain’s best, to establish the pressures behind the pristine smiles and their perspective on boxing. Cue, Stephanie Holland, Sophie Rose (both Boxnation) and Sara Beverley Jones (Matchroom).

Whatever industry you are in, you work for three reasons – your head, your heart and your back pocket. The income from being a ring girl, is firstly not that lucrative, but secondly inconsistent, with salaried appearances varying from roughly one to six days per month. With their income outside of boxing being far better paid, why do they do it? Stephanie answers, “We have the best seats in the house!”

Their love for boxing is the main draw. Does that come as a surprise to you? If you are thinking, ‘Yeah right!’, just be aware of how many boxing journalists don’t get paid a penny just so they can have the prestige of walking around with a press pass around their neck and be within spitting distance of the action. We are not that dissimilar creatures sharing the same passion.

The main difference between perhaps a journalist and a ring girl is their longevity within that role. Sara explains, being realistic about her future – “Obviously, it won't last forever and there will be a time where I will have to hang up my hotpants! However, I want to carry on and be a part of the boxing industry in some way, as I can't see boxing not playing a role in my life in the future, as I love it so much.”

It’s one thing ‘loving boxing’, but I decided to test the depth of their interest. When quizzed about their favourite fighters, as opposed to the (expected) response of, ‘Floyd or Manny’, I was impressed to be fired back with a question of, ‘Are you referring to International or domestic?’ In an attempt to test Stephanie’s knowledge I asked, ‘Domestic’, and was genuinely impressed to hear, “One fighter I always enjoy watching is Ronnie Heffron. He’s quick and very powerful when attacking, although his defence has let him down on occasions. He seemed to have slowed down in his last fight, but that could be because he moved up to light-middle from welterweight.” That as good a round-up of a fighter as any pundit could give in 60 words!

Sara’s views on boxing are respected that much, that she’s often entering into lengthy social media dialogue with boxing fans. Having carded at some huge fights, including Froch vs Groves I & II, her knowledge of champions is pretty good to say the least. “I always get asked for predictions on Twitter by boxing fans and my opinions, which I find quite flattering. I love boxing because it is a debatable sport, I love a good debate! I think the Smith brothers from Liverpool share an incredible story. Four talented brothers, three of whom held British titles. Callum is an amazing prospect in the super-middleweight division - he's a world champion in the making.”

The girls have one unique perspective though – not just their views on boxing, but their literal perspective of looking at the entire crowd in between rounds. All three agree that there’s an incredible buzz on fight night, that you can get caught up in the atmosphere and lose yourself (so much so that Sara almost forgot to jump into the ring at the end of the first round of the Froch v Groves rematch!). The flipside to the coin are the hostile/volatile crowds, as both Sophie and Stephanie explained at the recent Bad Blood promotion. Apparently, at times, up to three separate fights had broken out in the crowds. It’s again, at times like these, where there intervention of a ring girl after three minutes of boxing action can distract the angry fans and calm them down.

Although, on occasions, it’s the girls themselves who have to remain calm, having to adopt the three wise monkeys mindset of ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’. Take Stephanie Holland for example – a musical genius at the age of 12, reaching grade 8 on the violin, teaching herself up to grade 6 on the piano and then attaining a degree in classical music a few years later. “A guy told me at one of the boxing matches recently, ‘Don’t you think you are degrading yourself as a woman and you could achieve more with your life?’ Although it was tempting to turn around and say, ‘I’m probably educated to a higher standard than you’, you never take the bait. I work for a professional organisation and whilst representing them, it’s essential for me to remember that. When we have photos with members of the public, we do so as it bonds the brand with the customer and acts as a great marketing tool, as we literally carry the logo. If things get out of hand, that’s where security jump in.” It’s also worth mentioning that all three girls are multilingual university graduates. Bimbos they are not.

‘Speaking no evil’ and ignoring comments, is certainly easier than ‘seeing’! “You have to be very careful, because everything you do is in front of the cameras,” said Stephanie. “Just check the Youtube clip of Sophie and I at the weigh-in for the Eubank Jr/Saunders fight, when Eubank jumped on the scales in these tight underpants. We couldn’t help but check his physique out. It was quite embarrassing!”

It’s worth noting, the next time you may feel inclined to make a comment about a ring girl, to appreciate the time and effort that goes into their appearance. As Sophie explains, “I think the most popular ring girls are there for a reason - they look great.” 

They don’t just pull their hair back and strut their stuff. It will take about three hours to get their hair and make-up looking immaculate, and each of these girls spends between four to six days per week at the gym, and as fight night draws closer, they can often be in the gym three times per day. Sara explains. “I’ve had two boxing trainers develop eating plans for me since I’ve been with Matchroom. Protein plays a big part in my diet. I make sure I eat the right meats, get my iron from either broccoli, kale or spinach and incorporate eggs and oats. Breads are a no go.” The discipline they abide by, is certainly in the slipstream of the boxers.

My conclusion - this is not about sex selling, it’s about sex appeal selling. We turn up for the ‘boxing’, first and foremost. But in the words of Matchroom Press Officer Anthony Leaver, “Without [ring card girls] and their counterparts, it would take a lot away from the look and feel of a boxing event.”

Fifty years after the article in Ring Magazine, ring girls have defined their place in boxing and are certainly here to stay. There will always be opinions as to what their role should be and how appropriate their appearance is, but as far as I’m concerned, after numerous decades, they are engrained into boxing culture and should be embraced and appreciated as added value and light entertainment within the sport. Roll on the next 50 years.

Paul Zanon is the noted co-author of the autobiographies of master trainer Jimmy Tibbs and former IBF featherweight champion Paul Ingle. Both are available from Amazon.